It started late at night‚ when rangers heard the crackle of gunfire shatter the peace of the Kruger National Park.
It took until after sunrise before the ensuing drama ended‚ following a gruelling 60km hot-pursuit operation deep into Mozambican territory.
Two more rhinos lay dead‚ with part of their faces hacked off – the latest casualties in the rhino wars that have claimed the lives of more than 7‚000 rhinos and an undisclosed number of human casualties over the last decade.
But this time‚ the killers did not slip quietly into the night across an international border. Instead‚ two suspected poachers were grabbed and hauled off into custody after South African and Mozambican game rangers joined forces to track them down.
The poachers‚ both believed to be Mozambicans‚ were arrested at the weekend after a collaborative operation between rangers from Mozambique’s Limpopo National Park and Kruger National Park in South Africa.
According to the Peace Parks Foundation‚ which is working with Mozambique’s ANAC conservation agency to support wildlife protection in the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Conservation Area‚ South African rangers heard the gunshots late at night and used a new digital radio network to alert their Mozambican counterparts.
A ranger team from the closest Limpopo National Park field ranger post was alerted to meet up with counterparts from Kruger and soon found the carcasses of two white rhino at the border.
“On scanning the area‚ the team detected tracks leading further into Limpopo National Park and immediately went on a pursuit that led them over 60km through the park. Using skills acquired during their advanced training‚ the rangers were able to track and anticipate what the poachers’ next moves would most likely be‚” a spokesman for the Peace Parks Foundation said.
“Ambushes were set up along key exit routes‚ while the trackers were pursuing the poachers from behind.
“During the early hours of the morning‚ with light not yet breaking‚ a suspect with two sets of rhino horns was detained. This subsequently led to the further apprehension of his partner‚ who was carrying the rifle allegedly used to kill the rhinos.”
The suspects will stand trial in the provincial court in the city of Xai-Xai. The foundation said recent anti-poaching operations within Limpopo National Park‚ supported by a helicopter sponsored by the Dyck Advisory Group and the Geos Foundation‚ had yielded significant results in disrupting poaching.
Last week‚ for example‚ three suspected poachers fled from the vicinity of the Kruger National Park border after they were tracked for nearly 20km.
“The suspects – who would have entered KNP that night with moonrise – scattered‚ but left behind their valuable kit‚ including their firearm.”
The Stellenbosch-based foundation said it recently mobilised an extra $4.5-million (R68-million) to bolster anti-poaching efforts in the park‚ over and above the $1-million (R15-million) already allocated to the development and operations of the Limpopo park for the period 2014-2018. The funds were raised from the Dutch and Swedish Postcode Lotteries‚ KfW‚ the French Development Agency‚ MozBio‚ and other private donors.